The Lamest Apple Software

| John Martellaro's Blog

The Apple TV (2G or 3G) is a joy to use. It’s easy to navigate to content with just a few clicks. However, one of the test functions is infuriating and is about the lamest thing Apple has ever done.

Recently, my wife and I were watching an episode of The Glades via Netflix on our Apple TV (2G). (Season #1 is free on Netflix, but all three seasons are on iTunes.)

There were frequent, annoying pauses, as if the content needed to be buffered -- a symptom of a slow Internet connection. But we’re on a Comcast plan at 20 Mbps, and the Apple TV is on an Ethernet wired connection back to by home router, so I knew that probably wasn’t the problem.

Then I remembered a network test on the Apple TV. It’s under the General Settings -> Network -> Network Test. The test gets off to a great start. It asks if you’re experiencing slow performance. If “yes,” then it gets ambitious and asks what your expected Internet speed is, in megabits per second (Mbps.) That question suggests that something is going to be tested or adjusted. So far, so good.Then the test runs. A progress bar shows the testing of the download speed. Again, that’s promising.

Next comes the perplexing part. When the test is done, there is no feedback at all. Nothing. What you get is “Done.” After all that waiting. And that left me asking, “What’s done? What just happened? What were the results?”

This Has Been a Test

The purpose of a test is to provide a result. It’s as if your car were running rough, and you took it to the dealer. The mechanic says, “I’ll run a test.” Later, when you come back, the mechanic says, "The test is done. I can't tell you the results. Your car is ready."

The situation is a little murky because Apple is interfacing with Netflix, and we know that Netflix dynamically checks for the speed of the Internet connection. Plus, the Apple TV may have it’s own parameters. So there may be some behind the scenes tuning. (In my case, the pauses disappeared for good and the picture quality improved.)  What we do know however, from the progress bar caption (above), is that the speed of the connection is being tested.

If the test module is going to ask about system performance, quiz you on your expected speed, then show a progress bar, indicating a speed test, results should be shown. A simple statement would be good. For example,

“Your network downstream speed was measured at 15.2 Mbps.”

This no great challenge to the customer’s tech savvy because the software previously presented the Mbps nomenclature.

In addition, if the performance of the network is less than what the customer thought he/she was paying for, then the software could say something like, “You indicated 10+ Mbps expected, but 2.4 Mbps was measured.”

Without getting into needless jargon, a simple presentation of the result and explanation is called for. For example, we know that streaming compressed 720p has a certain minimum speed, roughly 4 Mbps. So the Apple TV could display a bar graph and show the customer how the Apple TV performed in comparison. Then the customer could draw some reasonable conclusions. Perhaps there’s a connection issue. Perhaps a sibling is downloading 100 GB from another room.

Done. Seriously?

“Done” is not a test result. Rather, it's a mistreatment of the customer. By way of contrast,  I am reminded of a wonderful, complimentary tweet I saw recently by @rtraister. "[He] believes we're smarter than we think we are. This belief, oddly, makes us smarter."

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

Comments

dwallin

Actually John, the test result is “Network test successfully completed.” (According to your graphic… I don’t have an Apple TV.) “Done” is the action button for you - if you’re done with it. Perhaps that should say “Exit” - or for Windows users “Start” smile

John Martellaro

dwallin. Clicking “Done” takes you back to the Network page as if nothing had ever happened.

BurmaYank

What does your Test box report if you choose “Don’t know” instead of “Faster than 10 Mbs” in the
“What download speed do you expect from your Internet connection?” box?

John Martellaro

BurmaYank: You get exactly the same results, nothing. Which suggests that while some action may be taken based on your differing estimates of your connection speed, including “I don’t know,” the software isn’t going to tell you what effect your input had. So why ask?

jak_keyser

You may be a bit ambitious for what the average consumer would find “clear” or understandable with just a numeric speed result. I’m pretty tech savvy but sometimes I sort of give up on paying attention to throughput and bandwidth numbers of potential and real throughput.

But the Apple TV’s test feedback is terrible, leaving one hanging. How about if it could respond with something like: 
“We have measured your network speed and intermittency and have made adjustments to buffering (prefetching and storing movie data) to give you a smoother more satisfying experience. This may cause a slight delay if you stop and restart or fast forward to another part of the movie, but it will be a small delay while movie data is stored in advance, and this should avoid stuttering during viewing resulting in a much smoother viewing experience.”

I realize that’s too geeky also. So maybe simply: ” We have tested your network speed and have made some adjustments to make your viewing smoother without stuttering. You should not experience any loss in quality of the picture and it may indeed improve.

I’m guessing buffering and adjustment of packet size can be optimized for local conditions (eg all your neighbors or your community are experiencing heavy usage and maybe even watching the same movie.

P.S. I always seek out your articles, especially for analysis. Thank you for such cogent and expert information.

P.P.S. FWIW—I think the “Got it” moment on Apple TV will be the iOS devices as TV controller which is kind of obvious, but with two more features. Picture in Picture or a grid/tiles of live feeds on steroids on the iOS device i.e. you can have many channels showing on your iOS device and switch with a touch. 2 to 16 tiles—user choice.

Great for when you want to follow 3 football games on different networks or watch the Newshour but break away to catch some of Nova or local news when a boring Newshour story is on—and you get to see thumbnails of numerous other channels so you can monitor what you want to change to. You can return to the Newshour when you see that it’s tile shows it’s done with the segment your not interested in.

Additionally, we all have to take a snack break or potty break or some kind of interruption—so you get to walk away and keep viewing the program on your iOS device until you come back to resume watching TV.

Add in buffering for delays say to take a phone call and that spells convenience and continuity of experience allowing for interruptibility to take a call or feed the kids.  Slap on an elegant delicious and comprehensible interface and viola, you get your cake and eat it too. (I guess that aptly applies to the food channel).

Since this would be a boon for traditional advertisement avoidance, that’s going to be sticky spot for content providers in negotiations—but fortunately Apple can offer a new advertising model. One or two of the tiles could have a static or dynamic ad content tailored by an opt-in ad relevancy scheme that Apple can monetize with opt-in info on it’s users. User choice of 2 to 16 tiles of content with user options sounds tempting, does it not?

I could go on about how the advertising tiles would give proportional revenue share to the tiles, or shared revenue as a selling point to content providers. The biggest carrot is opt-in demographic and lifestyle info that brings ads to a viewer with higher results due to relevancy.

gl

I would agree this is a confusing message that doesn’t give you anything to work with. 

This may be a case of Apple minimalism gone wide. 

The intuitive appleTV software engineer may have programed this test to assume that you knew what you were talking about and the result of “Network test completed successfully” simply is affirming you that your expected performance from your network was met successfully.  Meaning; you thought you should be getting faster than 10 Mbps. The AppleTV tested your connection, connected successfully to the internet, and was able to obtain a throughput of more than 10Mbps, as you expected. In other words, nothings wrong with your network connection. 

Or, the AppleTV tested your connection by making any necessary adjustments to your settings to make sure you can connect successfully, thereby connecting successfully, and that’s why it’s telling you the “Network test completed successfully”.  Meaning, you’re ok.

What results would you get if your network was down(or if you unplugged your network cable)?  This would probably give you some insight into the mind of the software engineers intentions.

Anyway,  I’m glad your viewing improved.  That would seem to suggest that the test did something.

ArBeeEss

It is dumb, but no dumber than any of the other “Network Assistants” out there.  The SBC/ATT DSL assistant… I think it was call “First Aid”, or something like that.  Made it sound like it would give you some kind of hint as to why your network connection was down.  NOT.  Thankfully, I could just connect my laptop, pop into Terminal and with a few pings here and there stumble around and finally figure out what was wrong.  But, yeah, this is just stupid.  Tell us the test results.  Even ATT has gotten better.  The 2-wire Uverse modems actually have some useful and informative diagnostics and statistics, if you know how to access it.

jbruni

Strong suggestion: Make sure your systems are configured to use your ISP’s DNS servers and not one of the big DNS providers like Google or OpenDNS.

Most of the content served to the AppleTV is hosted by Akamai and they need to find the nearest content server to you. This happens through the DNS query. If you are using something like OpenDNS, then the Akamai content server the AppleTV will try to use will be located near the OpenDNS server rather than in your ISPs data center.

When I bought my AppleTV, watching trailers was a painful experience. Once I switch my DNS back to my ISP, trailers would download almost instantly.

Log-in to comment